The Gordon Hayward sweepstakes has come and gone, and the Miami Heat were left empty handed.
So what’s next for the franchise that has secured a meeting with the top free agent two years in a row? For the Heat, the answer to their future may be their not-so-distant past.
Whether you call them the “Banana Boat Crew” or “The Brotherhood,” LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul can all be free agents next offseason. Piece that information together with the lesson learned from Hayward’s decision to join Brad Stevens in Boston — the idea that relationships matter — and Miami may have found the key to its next super team.
Let’s start with the obvious: James and Wade both had long and fruitful relationships with the Miami Heat organization, namely Pat Riley, and in both cases, those relationships ended in messy divorces. On the surface, that would complicate, if not eliminate, Miami’s chances at luring the two long-time stars back to South Florida. But Riley’s own words may offer an indication that he is ready to mend fences, if he hasn’t already.
Riley opened up to ESPN in April about his relationships with Wade and James and, in the case of Wade, the openness about hurt feelings has been mutual.
Wade, in a podcast with The Vertical, told Adrian Wojnarowski, “the fact that we didn’t talk, that hurt. And that was my deciding factor. … It wasn’t about the Arison family, I know they love me and I know they wanted me there. I know Spo wanted me there. I know Udonis and those guys. But at the end of the day, I didn’t hear from the guy I needed to [hear from].”
Perhaps more importantly, Wade also noted he loves Pat Riley and knows that the feeling is mutual.
Riley, for his part, expressed regret for the way he handled Wade’s free agency, telling ESPN that he was “very sad” when Wade bolted for Chicago.
A recent Twitter exchange between Wade and Dion Waiters, along with a tweet about where Wade’s son and nephew are expected to attend school in the fall, may also lend credence to the belief that Wade is open to a Miami return.
As for James, Riley has seemingly let go (or is willing to let go) of his initially anger over James’ decision to return to Cleveland. While it does take two to tango, in LeBron’s own words upon announcing his decision to return to a team owned by Dan Gilbert, “who am I to hold a grudge?”
LeBron has also expressed nostalgia for his time in Miami in a pair of Instagram posts.
Now that the prerequisites are out of the way, why would the “Banana Boat Crew” want to play in Miami?
For starters, the Heat play in the Eastern Conference and the Golden State Warriors do not. Working off the assumption that the quartet would like to stay in the much weaker East, only a few cities offer the type of big-market location they would covet. Essentially their options would be limited to Miami, New York and Brooklyn.
Of those three franchises, Miami is the most stable and set up better for both short- and long-term success.
All four members of the “Banana Boat Crew” are renowned for their basketball IQs, and seeing as the Warriors seem locked into their core for several more years, the four stars may realize they need to sacrifice financially to add the players necessary to get past the reigning NBA champions. Even if that isn’t the case, the Heat, as they did in 2010, should be able to purge their roster of big-money contracts and clear enough cap space for the quartet.
Financially, Miami would have some hurdles to clear, especially considering the long-term investments that they made to James Johnson, Dion Waiter and Kelly Olynyk this offseason. The salary cap is projected to increase to $103 million next summer, a small jump from the $99 million this offseason.
Assuming that James and Paul will command max contracts, Miami would likely need Anthony and Wade to split a third max salary for the scenario to be feasible. Considering James and Paul both have more than 10 years of experience, their max contracts would consist of up to 35% of the cap, netting each player an annual projected salary of a little over $35 million. That would leave Wade and Anthony around $30 million to split in order to fit the quartet under the projected cap.
Should “The Brotherhood” choose to convene in Miami, the Heat would likely be able to trade valuable pieces such as Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside for future draft picks or younger, cheaper players to fill out the roster. Depending on the financial flexibility of the incoming quartet, they could hang onto Dragic or Whiteside, or both, but that scenario seems far-fetched.
Dion Waiters’ new four-year, $52 million contract is tradeable, as is the poison pill deal that the Heat matched last offseason to keep Tyler Johnson. The same can be said for the deals given to James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. If Timofey Mozgov and his $16 million annual salary can be traded, as was the case this offseason, Miami shouldn’t have too much trouble unloading the long-term deals necessary to accommodate “The Brotherhood.”
It’s also reasonable to assume that by next offseason, Wade and Anthony will be past the days of big-money contracts, making the financial gymnastics needed to get all four players on the same team easier.
James, Wade, Paul and Anthony are four of the most powerful voices in sports, and all have advocated for and influenced a power shift that has, essentially, turned the NBA into a player-controlled league. Ultimately, the quartet holds the decision of where they will play in their collective hands. For Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, the 2018 offseason rests on the hope that relationships built in the past can lead the franchise to a brighter future.